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Electioneering and partisanship in the age of fake news

By Tabia Princewill

NIGERIA is one of those countries where, every time you think you’ve seen it all, something or someone intervenes to prove to you the sky is truly the limit in terms of the bizarre and extreme lengths politicians are ready to go to score a point.

Corruption

The sad case of Metele – Reno

We all accept everything on the spectrum of half-truths to outright lies, just in case the day comes when we need to “bend the truth” a little ourselves, which is the same reason very few people take a real stand against corruption: everyone hopes to benefit from the system one day.

“Jibril from Sudan” was born in such a climate: Jibril-the-clone might as well be a metaphor for Nigerians’ gullibility in the face of the shrewd manipulations of the political class which is adept at weaving fluid storylines and ever-changing, kaleidoscopic episodes to confuse Nigerians and obscure issues, therefore, irresistibly blurring the line between reality and the warped logic that turns political statements to puzzles meant to bamboozle the electorate.

Nnamdi Kanu’s most peculiar and inexplicable statements are often ironically repeated by the PDP.

Championing fiction and misinformation

When the leader of the Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, said President Muhammadu Buhari was replaced by a body double, “one Jibril from Sudan”, Femi Fani-Kayode and Reno Omokri took support for the Igbo cause to mean championing fiction and misinformation. Reno Omokri, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan is no stranger to controversy.

In 2014, the UK’s Financial Times, as well as a number of local publications, reported, following investigations by technology experts, that he used the now infamous alias “Wendel Simlin” to attempt to link the former CBN governor and current Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to Boko Haram.

It was reported the digital footprint of an article attempting to link Boko Haram attacks to the former CBN governor’s suspension, was traced back to him. In fact, he reportedly sent the article to several bloggers and journalists, including a popular online platform famous for exposing political scandals in Nigeria. Journalists who recognised the digital signature to be the same as previous elements sent in by Mr. Omokri raised the alarm.

Later, an American woman, Deborah Campbell, the alleged mother of the “real” Wendel Simlin, accused him of identity theft. She was quoted as saying: “I am the true Wendell Simlin’s mother here in the States. I’m appalled to find out my son has been a victim of identity theft, judging from the articles I recently read in your newspaper. Reno met my son after I married his wife’s brother”.

More recently, Mr. Omokri claimed, while commenting on the 2019 budget presentation, that 800 manufacturing firms shut down due to economic decisions taken by President Buhari’s administration. When internet users showed him the 2012 article he was quoting from, which was actually a report on the closure of manufacturing companies during his principal’s tenure, he deleted his tweet but not before it was saved and widely shared by Twitter users.

Reno Omokri was suddenly cured of his fantasies and fear of Fulanis, Northerners and Islamisation when Atiku Abubakar became the PDP presidential candidate. The many questionable, divisive and inconsistent views circulating during campaign season should be evaluated with a special focus on other related, invalidated statements.

The same people who said Buhari was a clone are also adamant the President is being criticised by his appointees. They were wrong about the cloning (it’s crazy to think geneticists had to resort to explaining why the President couldn’t possibly be a clone), the images and videos presented as “evidence” were proven to be fake; so is it possible there’s more to the Amaechi tapes than meets the eye?

In life, one goes by people’s antecedents. People who pander to humanity’s worst instincts will do it again, and to put it simply: once a conspiracy theorist, always a conspiracy theorist! At the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar’s turbanning as Turakin Adamawa, last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo also seemed to give credence to the cloning rumour. He was quoted as saying: “No matter how long we choose to feign ignorance, the news of a stranger running the affairs of Nigeria has gained international attention.

“Fake news is real, but this story, whether false or true can only be put to rest by the accused who happens to be President Muhammadu Buhari”. Senator McCain, despite being President Obama’s adversary in the 2008 presidential election, defended his opponent against the false claim that Obama wasn’t born in the US (constitutionally, only a person born on US soil can be President). In the same manner, why couldn’t Atiku or Obasanjo categorically state Buhari wasn’t a clone, therefore showing national political unity against misinformation and propaganda?

Ibim Seminateri, a former Commissioner for Information while Amaechi was Rivers State Governor, reacted to the leaked audios reportedly released by Phrank Shaibu, an aide of Atiku, by saying they could have come from any of her former’s boss’ conversations with journalists. In regards to the portion of the audio where Amaechi appears to criticise Buhari, she said: “During the Jonathan era, he had made these comments at various media discussions during which time he had also lamented the former President’s refusal to listen and take counsel.

“Media colleagues at these events I am sure will remember. It is for this reason that I am certain the first recording was from one of those parleys”. She said the recordings were a “clear case of cut and paste” of statements made at different times on diverse issues. Such clips only surface during election season where they replace discussion on policy, like pictures of “hospitalised” politicians who fall ill virtually as soon as they are wanted for questioning.

Unverified assertions continue to distract us from the real conversations we should be having. Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on Digital Media, published the edited or “missing parts” from the alleged “fake” clips next to the alleged “real” clips.

Political affiliation

In today’s Nigeria, what one chooses to believe depends on one’s political affiliation rather than what logic or evidence could lead one to conclude.

Without telling Nigerians what to think, it is necessary for the press to remind us all that in election season, with so much at stake, manipulation is rife. It’s irresponsible to publish only one version of the clips, when several allegedly exist. Have we forgotten the Cambridge Analytica scandal, how some people were paid to influence our elections using fear mongering and gory, fake images?

The real tragedy in Nigeria is that everyone is beholden to someone so no independent organisation ever verifies or analyses clips or recordings used during campaigns for fear of reprisal. It’s up to Nigerians to be discerning, in an environment where the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB

THE Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is recruiting graduates in Agriculture and Engineering to run “small scale high-tech companies to take care of road and sewage maintenance”.

Government failure to cater to the needs of its citizens is responsible for the rise of militant or extremist groups. By providing young people with money, jobs and a “cause”, these groups replace the state by taking over its responsibilities. The consequences are both dangerous and far reaching. “We have resolved to salvage what is left of the infrastructure in Biafraland to minimise the level of hardship resulting from years of misrule and mediocrity by a political class bereft of ideas.

We shall work very hard to reduce the number of unemployed Biafran graduates rendered hopeless by the political arrangement in Nigeria”.

Interestingly, IPOB never mentions corruption as the root of the poverty and dysfunction they complain of. It makes one wonder who funds such movements and what their real motives are.

Senator Abaribe

HE stood as a surety for Nnamdi Kanu but he is reportedly yet to pay the N100m bail bond ordered by the court due to Kanu’s disappearance. If senators thwart the law why won’t everyone else?

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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